David Brooks: You Mean “B”, Not “M”—Right…RIGHT!!??

July 5th, 2011 at 12:03 pm

In a fine oped that lined up with some of things I’ve been saying, David Brooks gets worried about the ability of the current Republican Party to engage in rational negotiation leading to budget deal.

But then there’s this:

“If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.” [my bold]

I take it he means a few hundred billion, not million.

But his mistake is revealing.

A deal that includes revenues is essential to avoid deeply harmful cuts that would do a lot more harm than good to both the economy and the most vulnerable people in it.

The problem is, the revenue part of the debate is devolving to a 0/1 discussion—they’re either in or out, without regard to their magnitude.   While I agree that it is symbolically important to break the Norquist hold on the Congress, a few hundred billion (with a ‘B’!) in revenues against trillions in tax cuts would be too unbalanced a deal for Democrats to accept.

I see two negotiating options.  One is to take a more serious stab at balance on the revenue side by going after bigger ticket tax expenditures…here’s a menu.  Or two, adjust the spending cuts down to reflect the lower-than-desired revenue amounts in the deal.

In the President’s original framework, he had two dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of higher revenues ($2 trillion in cuts; $1 trillion in revs).  That means if we’re looking at say, $500 billion in higher revenues over 10 or 12 years, Democrats should agree to no more than $1 trillion in spending cuts.

And if that’s not a typo—if Brooks really means ‘m’ not ‘b’—then there can be no deal.

Update: Typo now fixed in Brooks’ oped.  But the point remains–a few hundred billion in revenues against trillions in spending cuts is not a balanced plan.  And the President himself called for such a plan at a press conference earlier (“…I believe we need a balanced approach”).

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12 comments in reply to "David Brooks: You Mean “B”, Not “M”—Right…RIGHT!!??"

  1. D. C. Sessions says:

    And if that’s not a typo—if Brooks really means ‘m’ not ‘b’—then there can be no deal.

    A good rule of thumb in negotiation is that the party most willing to walk away has the advantage. Is there any evidence of the current Administration ever walking away? Is there any evidence that the current Administration has a sticking point?

    I’d really like to believe that it does.


  2. R says:

    When congressmen such as my own post notices such as this: http://www.campbell.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3006:thursday-june-9-2011-debt-limit&catid=38&Itemid=300035

    I become even more discouraged about the future state of our economy. In bold and italicized lettering, Representative Campbell writes: A failure to increase the debt limit will not trigger a default.

    Honestly what plane of logic people like this work on is beyond comprehension.


    • D. C. Sessions says:

      Representative Campbell writes: A failure to increase the debt limit will not trigger a default.

      And that’s quite possibly true, for some value of “default.” For instance, if every penny received goes to service the existing debt then we won’t default on our bonds.

      Medical bills, Social Security payments, etc. are another matter. Rep. Campbell might figure that the current Administration will stiff everyone else before the silver-haired set miss a single deposit. Rep. Campbell might even be right, at least with this Administration.

      Or not.


  3. John says:

    Hi, JB.

    I think something very simple is being missed here, so let me try to state the obvious (again).

    The Republican goal is smaller (or no, as is “drowned in a bathtub”) government. Smaller means less net spending. Period. Less spending with revenue increases doesn’t guarantee less spending to them, it may mean more net spending – why else would revenue increases be necessary except to spend them? I get that.

    If net spending is going to go down, why would there be a need to increase the debt ceiling? Increasing the debt ceiling means that net spending will be going up, not down. So they don’t want a debt ceiling increase. At all. And that makes perfect sense. I get that. I just have a different purpose in mind.

    This isn’t rocket science. It’s arithmetic. Right?

    So what do Democrats want? Someone will have to tell me, ’cause, I don’t get.

    I realize that Republican rhetoric seems to suggest that they don’t understand how tax cuts are adding to the deficit. To them, that just means more spending cuts are needed. But Democrats don’t seem to understand that revenue increases have the sole purpose of allowing increased net spending, which is exactly what Republicans really oppose – increased net spending.

    Neither side makes any sense here. Actually, there aren’t “sides” here – just one side, and a pointless, confused, middle.

    At some point, Democrats are gonna have to stop with the cognitive dissonance, and defend higher net spending in the same way Republicans insist on lower net spending. And that’s all they’re doing – insisting on lower net spending, or so they believe, even though there’s a different devil in the details than just that.

    As a socialist, I want provisional (as opposed to authoritative) government – and spending – to be as big as it absolutely has to be. Period. I want it big enough to manage all the public sector concerns of a country of our size, a country with lots of concerns too big for the private sector, even if the private sector that’s making record profits even cared to be concerned, which is isn’t. And it’s not big enough right now for that. Period. Spending cuts are not going to make it big enough. Period. So I don’t want to hear talk of spending cuts at all. Period. Just revenue increases. Period.

    Maybe we need a “no spending cuts” version of Grover Norquist – that would be balance. Spending cuts plus revenue increases isn’t balance; it’s musical chairs. A game. And this is no time for games.


    • John says:

      I might add that I think he did mean “m”, not “B”.

      Hyperbole. An effective rhetorical device, even (if not especially) when facts don’t support a claim. I think he meant to be taken hyperbolically, not fact-checked, JB.

      The Republican position is revolutionary, intentionally so, and thus intentionally hyperbolic. Brooks is responding in kind. He knows that’s the battlefield. That being the case, Democrats need to recognize as much, and realize this is a war, not a debate.

      He did say “the members of this movement have no sense of moral decency.” And he’s on their side. Why don’t Democrats get it yet?

      Time to stop bringing calculators – not even knives – to a gunfight. At least make it plain that you know you’re in a fight.


    • John says:

      I know I’m wearing out my welcome, but at that risk…

      1 trillion = 1000 billion.
      1 trillion = 1,000,000 million (1 million million).

      Yes, $500B = 1/2 ($1T), but more simply, trillions to billions is 1000:1, not 2:1. And yes, I know you know this, JB.

      My point is that 2:1 isn’t good enough for Republicans. They don’t want balance at all, in any ratio – 1000:1 wouldn’t be good enough for them. They want net spending cuts, period. This is not accounting – it’s ideology.

      It just seems flat out insane to me that Democrats aren’t taking them at their word, and acting appropriately. It’s not like they haven’t been telling us what they really think – how much clearer could they be?


      • D. C. Sessions says:

        It just seems flat out insane to me that Democrats aren’t taking them at their word, and acting appropriately.

        Let us for a moment entertain Chris Hayes’ thesis: that President Obama has built his entire political identity on post-partisan reasonableness, on the premise that there are no insuperable differences that people of good will can’t resolve. That the political opposition is, in fact, operating from good will, seeking the same goals although differing on their preferred means towards those goals.

        In that case, the Administration views the Right’s radical rhetoric is just a negotiating tactic, a preliminary maneuver jockeying for position prior to serious deal-making. The one thing that is absolutely out of the question would be questioning their good faith and patriotism.


        • John says:

          Take your pick…

          The saying that GWB screwed up: “F00l me once, shame on you; f00l me twice, shame you me.”

          Or, Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

          As for questioning their good faith and patriotism; already did that, right here. They certainly have no problem questioning mine, me being a socialist. Don’t imagine I’d have missed how they talk about socialists, and use the term as an absolute pejorative.

          I suspect you’re being sarcastic, D.C. I’m not.

          Chris Hayes is just whistling past the graveyard. And if he’s right about Obama, then Obama is doing the same. I’m not trying to psychoanalyze him or anyone else; and I’m not speculating; I’m considering available evidence. It’s not that hard to do.

          I’m not gonna go Godwin’s Law on this issue, but I could. Don’t get me started. I suspect you know the Niemoller statement, about coming first for the socialists. Not a joke to me. Anything but.


          • D. C. Sessions says:

            I’m not being sarcastic, I’m taking Chris Hayes’ thesis where it leads. And it leads to the President flatly refusing to call a spade a garden tool.

            Now, whether I would call them anything of the sort is quite another matter — and is irrelevant to the question of what we can expect of the Administration.


  4. Donsig says:

    What does it say about numerical literacy in this country that that this kind of error can occur? If leading commentators made basic mistakes in grammar, we’d dismiss them as incompetent. Why is political commentary all about the personalities? Getting the numerical details of policy right is just not that important to understanding what’s going on.


    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      You make a good point. Numeracy is critical, but explaining it requires a bit of time and humor.

      As for the personalities.. it certainly appears we have a lot of sound bite politicians. And a sound bite lends itself to 0/1 a lot more than it lends itself to diplomacy and civil discourse.
      Just sayin’.


  5. Daniel Greenwood says:

    We are in the middle of a recession. We have people who have no jobs. We have investors that can find nothing better to do with their capital than to buy bonds at near zero interest rates or speculate in the derivatives market.

    Meanwhile, we have vast infrastructure needs — a railroad system that barely exists, an electric system that needs to be rebuilt to accommodate dispersed power sources, a securities regulatory system that needs to be able to understand the threats to our economy, state university systems that are collapsing from lack of funding, an economy that needs help to switch to new fuels that do not depend on carbon emissions or Middle East wars.

    At the same time, we have a medical care funding system that is an international disgrace. And levels of inequality, rivaled only in the least successful parts of the world, that threaten the bases of our prosperity.

    We need tax increases on the rich, not reductions — even if we didn’t need the money for national investments, we’d need to reduce the anti-growth influence of incumbent wealth and the anti-democratic influence of inequality.

    We need MORE investment, not less. Interest rates are near zero. The Federal government should be taxing and borrowing massively to fund our massive infrastructure needs.

    And we need a far strong counter-cyclical safety net. We should be enacting permanent increases in social security benefits to counteract the deterioration in private pensions. It is time we had genuine family friendly policies, such as a national child support payment to eliminate our scandalous child poverty and help the struggling middle class. We need Federal school funding assistance so that our schools are less dependent on cyclical local economies.

    The President should be calling for trillions in investments, not merely modest cutbacks in indefensible tax loopholes.


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